Just a quick update on the WHOA (Wild Horses Observers Association) v. NMLB (NM Livestock Board) lawsuit, which has been wending its way through the courts since February 2014. We will hopefully see the end of this case in short order.
The latest is that on July 20, 2017, the NM Court of Appeals proposed to affirm the District Court’s September 2016 dismissal (for the second time) of WHOA’s lawsuit. This is good news for NMLB and the Placitas residents who joined the case as “defendants by intervention”. Although both sides had the opportunity to file briefs (by August 15) in support of or against the Court of Appeal’s proposal to uphold the dismissal, we anticipate that, once those briefs are reviewed, the Court of Appeals will not change its mind and will go ahead and affirm the lower court’s decision. Can this really be the end of this case? We’ll know soon.
Because WHOA has filed a similar lawsuit in Ruidoso which is currently in progress, the Placitas case is getting some renewed attention. Below is a timeline of the Placitas lawsuit. In between these dates, there were, of course, dozens of motions, briefs, and responses filed.
TIMELINE–3.5 YEARS AND COUNTING
2/26/2014. WHOA (plaintiff) files suit against NMLB (defendant) in NM 2nd District Court claiming free-roaming horses captured in the Placitas Open Space (POS) shouldn’t be subject to NMLB’s estray procedures. (Of note, no horses were ever captured on the POS by any agency or individual either before of after the lawsuit was filed by WHOA).
3/14/2014. WHOA asks the Court for a temporary restraining order against NMLB.
3/31/2014. Twelve Placitas residents concerned about the damage to the Placitas environment and wildlife that the growing population of free-roaming horses (200+) is causing petition the court to be allowed to participate in the case as “defendants by intervention” who have a valid interest and right to be heard in the case. Various affadavits about their concerns are filed.
4/3/2014. Judge Huling, NM 2nd District Court will not consider WHOA’s request for a temporary restraining order against NMLB.
4/4/2014. The Placitas residents’ request to intervene in the case is granted by Judge Huling, NM 2nd District Court.
7/16/2014. Judge Huling of NM 2nd District Court dismisses the lawsuit essentially on the grounds that WHOA has not proven the Placitas free-roaming horses are “wild” and should be treated differently than any other estray horses.
8/28/2014. WHOA appeals the District Court decision; the case goes to the NM Court of Appeals.
8/4/2015. The NM Court of Appeals reverses the NM 2nd District Court decision to dismiss, opining that certain undomesticated and unowned horses aren’t “livestock” and therefore aren’t subject to NMLB statutes governing livestock (a category which includes horses), and therefore, the grounds on which the District Court dismissed the case don’t hold up. The case is sent back to District Court for further review. Of note, in its opinion, the NM Court of Appeals does not ever refer to undomesticated/unowned horses as “wild” horses.
10/2015. NMLB and the Placitas Defendants by Intervention petition the NM Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision not to uphold the lower court’s dismissal. The Supreme Court ain’t interested and declines to take up the case.
9/7/2016. After months of additional filings in NM 2nd District Court, a hearing on the case takes place under Judge Huling.
9/23/2016. Judge Huling dismisses the case for the second time, this time on the grounds that WHOA’s complaint is “moot” because there are no free-roaming horses in the Placitas Open Space and there is nothing for WHOA to contest (the POS was completely fenced and horse-free as of February 28, 2014).
10/21/2016. WHOA appeals the District Court’s dismissal and the case is sent to the NM Court of Appeals–again.
7/20/2017. The NM Court of Appeals reviews the reasoning behind the lower court’s dismissal of the case and agrees with it. The Court of Appeals therefore proposes to affirm the dismissal on grounds of mootness. The parties can submit a response to the NM Court of Appeals’ proposal to affirm by August 15.
8/16/2017. The Placitas group’s response to the Court of Appeals–in support of dismissing the case–is in. We haven’t heard whether NMLB and WHOA submitted responses. We are awaiting the NM Court of Appeals’ final decision.
Full disclosure: The editors of this blog are among the 12 Placitas residents who were permitted by the court to join the “WHOA v. NMLB” case as Defendants by Intervention (individuals who are not a party to the case but who have an interest in the outcome).